As a student double-majoring in journalism and political science, I’m more than familiar with the stipulations of the First Amendment, and I’m well aware of a journalist’s duty to act ethically while covering a story.
In addition to three other protections, the First Amendment states that the federal government shall make no law to abridge the freedom of the press or the freedom of the people to peaceably assemble.
A viral video of the University of Missouri protest surfaced a few days ago that depicted protestors, including an MU communications professor, acting with hostility toward student-photojournalist Tim Tai.
Tai had every right to be at the protest just as much as the protestors had the right to protest. After watching the viral video, I was appalled by what I saw, particularly with the passive-aggressive force used to remove Tai. Even communications professor Melissa Click requested “muscle” to physically remove student-journalist Mark Schierbecker, who filmed the viral video. The use of any sort of physical force by protestors, in my opinion, does not warrant a peaceable assembly. The fact that Click requested media attention just a few days before the events of this video doesn’t make this incident look any better.
The protestors did raise an ethical point about Tai’s refusal to respect their wishes. However, the protestors were in a public space and because the protestors’ “safe space” argument is an ambiguous concept that carries no legal precedent over First Amendment rights in a public setting, Tai’s First Amendment rights trumps the protestor’s request.
I thought to myself, “Are these protestors really that ignorant about the law that guarantees their own rights to protest? Do they not realize that their actions in this video and hostility towards media can be damaging to their cause?”
Though a great deal of support by media and members of the general public commends Tai for his professionalism, poise and commitment to the First Amendment, not much was said about why the protestors acted the way they did. I don’t know of the actions that took place before or after Schierbecker shot this video.
After reading through the video’s comments, I came across a couple of comments from Mizzou students who were at the protest that may explain why the protestors acted the way they did. The comments I read claimed that some members of the media at the protest acted unethically and some journalists were disrespectful to students, even shoving them around to get to a certain place. Comments claimed that protestors depicted in the video were regrouping to figure out a way to deal with the unethical reporters.
However, these comments did not come with any photos or videos or any other proof to support these claims, and I could not find any photos or videos online or on social media that showed journalists acting unethically toward Mizzou protestors.
Journalists are supposed to show both sides of every story, but how can they if they can’t do their jobs? The viral video only shows the protestors acting with hostility, but does not show why they are acting this way. If the comments I read on social media are true, then the protestors themselves should have captured their side of the story regarding this incident. Or have someone else capture that side of the story, like maybe a reporter?
Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at EricG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.